Tuesday, October 1, 2019

How I Achieved Machine Binding Without Shame: Victory at Last!

I am SO excited about the most boring quilt that I finished last night -- because I completed the binding entirely by machine and, for the first time ever, it doesn't look hideous.  OH RAPTURE AND JOY!!

I'm Not Ashamed of My Machine Sewn Binding Anymore!
I pieced this top myself during the Charlotte Quilters Guild's Christmas In July Sit-and-Sew.  The idea was for us to get a head start on some holiday themed outreach quilts for patients who are hospitalized over Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.  I didn't choose the fabrics or the the simple alternating squares layout, and wasn't able to be as adventurous with the quilting as I'd hoped since my longarm machine was misbehaving (I think she's fixed now, though!).  So I went with a simple 1" grid with rulers in the red blocks and a large amoeba stipple in the white squares.  I have to say, I was a lot happier with the quilting after washing it than I was when I first took it off the frame.  It's simple but so soft and snuggly, with the bumpy quilt texture that I love!  I used a variegated red and green King Tut cotton thread in the needle (Industrial size 4.5) with a Forest Freen So Fine thread in the bobbin, and the batting that was provided to me by our guild's Outreach Committee.

40 x 40 Charity Baby Quilt in Christmas Fabrics
There are tons of binding tutorials on the Internet, and I've tried (and failed) with a few of them before.  What finally worked for me this time was a method shared with me by Vivian, who blogs over at Bronx Quilter.  I'm writing this up while it's fresh in my mind and storing it on the Internet so I can find my notes when I need it again.

How Closely Must You Look To Tell The Binding Was Not Hand Stitched?
My criteria for an acceptable machine binding may be different from yours.  I prefer the look and the process of hand stitched bindings for most of my quilts, but after timing how long it takes me to hand stitch all the way around the perimeter of a large quilt (?!!) I realized that not every quilt needs or warrants that level of handwork.  The quilts I'll be binding by machine will be charity outreach quilts for my guild and baby quilts that need to get done and out the door before the baby in question heads off to college.  

It's Easier to See Threads in the Fabric Weave Than It Is to See the Machine Stitches From the Back
What I wanted from a machine stitched binding was a fast(er) process that would look as much like my usual hand stitched binding as possible, and that's what I got with Vivian's method.  THANK YOU, VIVIAN!

So I remember for next time, here are the steps I took to bind this quilt:

  • I trimmed my binding strips to 2 1/4" wide.  The Outreach Committee precuts binding strips in kits at 2 1/2" wide. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do with binding that wide, as I normally cut my binding anywhere from 1 7/8" to 2" wide for hand stitched binding, but never wider than that!  2 1/4" was plenty wide enough for me, for this method.
  • I joined the binding strips together as usual with diagonal seams, pressed open, and pressed the entire length of the binding in half.
  • With my walking foot, using black 50/3 cotton thread and a 2.5 stitch length, I sewed the binding to the BACK side of the quilt instead of to the front of the quilt as I normally would, mitering the corners as I went along.  
  • THIS IS CRUCIAL -- sew a few inches with a quarter inch seam allowance, and then take the quilt out from under the machine, wrap the binding around to the front of the quilt, and see whether it's covering the stitching line adequately without too much excess.  Now is the time to adjust that seam allowance a smidge wider or narrower, to get it just right!
Stitching the Binding to the Back of the Quilt First, Mitering Corners As I Reached Them

Note that, even with the binding trimmed to 2 1/4" wide, I still felt that it looked lopsided when I stitched it down with a quarter inch seam allowance and wrapped it around to the front of the quilt.  The folded edge of the binding went WAY past the stitching line it was meant to cover, which would have made the binding noticeably wider on the front of the quilt than on the back.  It also would have moved the final machine stitching line farther away from the binding on the back of the quilt, making it more noticeable.  So I moved my needle one position to the LEFT of center, enabling me to continue using the quarter inch mark engraved on my walking foot as a guide, but evening out the amount of binding on both sides of the quilt.  This was a fairly thin batting this time, however.  If I was doing this on a puffier quilt, say with wool batting or a double batting, I'd probably be safer with the 2 1/4" width.  But I would want to test this first on a scrap quilt sandwich using my actual battings in the event that my quilt had piecing lines that met a quarter inch away from the raw edge of the quilt top.  I'd hate to have my generous-quarter-inch binding chop off any of my precious triangle points!

  • I left a 12" gap between where I started sewing my binding to my quilt and where I stopped stitching, with 10" tails of loose binding at both ends.  Then I used my trusty Binding Tool to mark, trim, and stitch those loose ends together with a perfect diagonal seam.  When I use that little acrylic guide tool, the joined bit of binding always  fits the 12" gap perfectly so I can sew the opening shut without any stretching or easing required and no one can tell where I stopped or started the binding.
  • Next, I pressed the binding away from the seam line with a hot iron so the folded edge stuck out beyond the edges of the quilt.  I folded the miters of all four corners by hand and pressed them firmly with steam, and then pressed the binding around the edge of the quilt, ensuring that it just barely covered the black line of stitches on the front of my quilt.  I used those nifty Wonder Clips to hold the binding in place after pressing.  (I'm aware that some quilters glue baste their binding before machine stitching it down, but I went with the clips because I'm interested in a fast-and-dirty method for utility quilts, not a guaranteed-perfection-at-a-price method for show quilts).
  • Time to change the needle and rethread the machine!  I put Smoke invisible monofilament thread in the bobbin due to my black backing fabric (YES you can wind on your bobbin -- just only fill the bobbin halfway and slow your bobbin winding speed down if possible) and Clear monofilament thread in my size 60/8 needle.  In retrospect, I probably should have used Smoke in the needle as well, since my stitches were landing on the binding fabric rather than on the fabrics of my quilt top.  I used YLI monofilament thread on this project, but I also like Superior's MonoPoly and Aurifil's invisible monofilament as well.

And now, for a BAD decision: I thought it would be helpful to switch the sole of my Bernina walking foot for the next step to the sole with the center guide, but that was a bad decision.  Next time I'll stick with the open view sole that I was using initially, since that would give me a better view of where my stitches are landing.  Also, the guide blade in the center of the other sole wanted to pull my mitered corners apart as I was trying to stitch them down.  Aaargh!!  No more center guide sole for this technique!  That sole is designed for stitch-in-the-ditch quilting, and that's what I'll reserve it for from now on.

Machine Stitching Binding to Quilt Front With Monofilament (Do NOT Use This Guide Sole Next Time!)
As you can see in the photo above, my binding wrapped around to just comfortably cover my black stitching line without too much struggling or too much excess, just as I'd hoped.  Again, this wasn't some magical happy accident -- it's because I tested the seam allowance and adjusted it to get it just right for this particular quilt before I continued sewing the binding all the way around the quilt!

Stitch Settings for Sewing Binding with Monofilament on My Bernina 750QE

  • Per Vivian's suggestions, I sewed the binding to the front of my quilt with a narrow zigzag stitch.  I started out with Vivian's preferred stitch length of 3.0 but, since this quilt is destined for a hospitalized baby, I decided I wanted to have the binding more securely attached with the zigzag "bites" closer together.  I ended up with a stitch length of 2.25 and a stitch width of 1.5, but I could make the stitch width smaller next time if I use the open toe sole on my walking foot so I can see what I'm doing!  As you see in the photo above, I've got my needle position moved two clicks to the right of center, but again, that's because of the center guide on my presser foot sole.  I had to do that to ensure that my zigzag was actually on my binding.  The only other setting change I made was to reduce my tension to 2.25, which I honestly don't remember doing (this was late at night) but it was a good "autopilot" decision for the monofilament thread.  Too-tight tension is what makes invisible thread look objectionably shiny and not-so-invisible.

Not Bad, Right?!
And that's it, folks!  The Smoke monofilament thread would have disappeared even more against my dark binding fabric than the Clear, and if I reduced the zigzag width to 1.0 or went with a blind hem or invisible appliqué stitch instead, I bet I could make the binding look even more like it had been hand stitched, with the same speed and ease of application.  I can experiment with other stitches next time.  For now, I'm celebrating that I have a finished Christmas outreach quilt ready to turn in at our guild meeting on Wednesday.  I'm really pleased.  YAY!

Back View of Machine Stitched Binding, PRIOR to Laundering
Interesting side note: in the photo above, my quilting tension looks pretty wretched, but it really is not.  Those white dots you're seeing are the off-white quilt batting showing through the giant needle holes of the larger needle I used for quilting in order to accommodate the King Tut cotton thread, which is a slightly heavier weight.  After laundering the finished quilt, those holes closed almost completely and I can only see specks of batting here and there, where it was actually pushed out on the backing side where the thread passed through.  When I use dark fabric for my personal quilts, I like to use Hobbs Heirloom 80/20 BLACK batting to prevent that problem.  With this quilt's combination of black backing fabric and white squares on the quilt top, though, if I was hell-bent on making my life difficult that way, I would probably have put the black 80/20 on the bottom with a thin layer of white batting on the top to ensure that the black batting didn't shadow through the white fabric and make it look dingy gray.

After Laundering
See what I mean? I wash all my quilts as soon as I finish binding them as a personal preference, but this one DEFINITELY needed to be washed, since it's headed to a hospital NICU.  

Updated October 4th, 9 AM: WOW -- when I shared this binding technique, I didn't expect to stir up a huge controversy about the "safety" of invisible monofilament threads.  In addition to the comments here on my blog post, I've received numerous direct emails, direct messages through my Facebook page and from the Yahoo groups that I belong to or manage, etc.  Keep them coming, but please be specific.  If you're telling me that you have personal experience with quilt guilds, hospitals, or other charitable organizations that do not accept donation quilts that have any monofilament thread in them, I would like to know WHICH guild, WHICH hospital, or the NAME of the charity to which you're referring.  I would also like to know of any other restrictions that organization may have (do they require all cotton batting, for instance?  Or do they require fire-retardant batting?), and the reasons behind those restrictions.  Please know that I am never offended by someone who disagrees with me and I know that people are voicing concerns about this with the best of intentions, and I thank you for that.  However, I strongly suspect that 1) these restrictions are coming from quilt guild members and officers rather than from the charities and hospitals themselves and 2) the restrictions reflect concerns about the much thicker, much stronger nylon threads that have been used by commercial workrooms serving the hospitality industry (think quilted bedspreads and drapery panels in hotel rooms) or for mass-produced bedding that you might find at a big box store.  

I've started researching the tensile strength and melting points for a variety of threads so I can compare them to the monofilament threads that I use and recommend.  I'll be looking at 100% cotton 50 weight thread, the "all-purpose" polyester sewing threads, the lighter weight polyester quilting threads that are used almost universally by longarm quilters, as well as the heavier 40 weight cotton threads that designed for quilting by machine and the glazed cotton threads used for hand quilting.  From my personal experience, I can tell you that I can snap off a piece of .004 monofilament invisible thread MUCH more easily than I can snap off a piece of glazed 100% cotton hand quilting thread.  When I've compiled my research, I will share my findings here.  

40 x 40 Baby Quilt, Off My To-Do List and Ready to Donate!
That's all for today, folks!  I'm linking this post up with:


·       Midweek Makers at Quilt Fabrication


·       Needle and Thread Thursday at My Quilt Infatuation  


·       Whoop Whoop Fridays at Confessions of a Fabric Addict
·       Beauty Pageant at From Bolt to Beauty
·       Finished Or Not Friday at Busy Hands Quilts
·       TGIFF Thank Goodness It’s Finished Friday, rotates, schedule found here: http://tgiffriday.blogspot.ca  


Lakegaldonna said...

Victory on the machine binding! Way to go and now it's done.

Jill said...

Lucky is the recipient of this pretty Christmas quilt. The fabrics look swell in this simple pattern. I, also, prefer a hand look to machine-stitched binding. I’m going to save directions for future reference. Thanks!

Home Sewn By Us said...

Hi Rebecca! I have the same feelings about binding, be it hand done or machine stitched. I haven't been happy with the machine ones I've tried because either it doesn't cover the original stitch line well or it covers it too much. You've shared great suggestions about how to adjust everything, and which stitch you chose. I'll have to give it another try, as sometimes speed is warranted and needed! ~smile~ Roseanne

Quilting Gail said...

YEAH Rebecca!!! WOO HOO!! I'm so glad that you've mastered machine binding! Your method is almost exactly the same as mine! (Except I don't use the binding tool!) Way to go!
And what a beautiful quilt!
Happy Quilting! :-)

Ramona said...

Your quilt will make a lovely gift to a baby in the hospital at Christmas. Great job on the binding! I hate using monofilament thread, but may have to try your idea.

chrisknits said...

Bookmarking your post for future reference! I am just starting to use machine binding on less formal tops, but will still use hand sewing for my quilt bindings, I really do like to hand sew them, weird, I know!! LOL

Anonymous said...

Interesting method. I am surprised that the hospital allows synthetic thread. The hospital we donate to requires 100% cotton content. May be that it's a NICU unit???

KaHolly said...

You’re adorable! I did the binding on a doll quilt entirely by machine today and thought I was pretty hot stuff!

Rebecca Grace said...

I have never heard of any group requiring 100% cotton fabric and thread. Do they require 100% cotton batting as well? Did the hospital give you any reason? Our guild donates to two local hospitals, NICU, Pediatrics, and chemo patients, as well as to local veterans in hospice care. The only requirements we have from the hospitals are size guidelines for each category and they want the hospital quilts to be quilted rather than tied so they stand up to washing. I doubt very much that hospital gowns, sheets and blankets are all 100% cotton since they get washed over and over in very hot water to ensure they’re sanitized thoroughly.

Rebecca Grace said...

Lowering your tension and using a very small needle are the keys to success. Go for it!

Rebecca Grace said...

Not weird at all! I love hand stitching my bindings, too . That’s how I’ll continue to finish most of my quilts, just not EVERY quilt.

KatieQ said...

I have only attempted machine binding a few times and was never happy with the results. I actually enjoy sewing the binding by hand, but after binding a large quilt my trigger finger kicks in. Your tutorial is so clear, I might finally be able to bind the backlog of quilts hanging around my sewing room. Thank you for sharing.

Susan said...

Congrats on a binding well done!

Lynette said...

Absolutely beautiful machine binding! OK. I completely get it about some organizations wanting no poly fabrics or poly battings, as a fire consideration, but COME ON. The miniscule amount of thread to stitch down a binding? That's just bonkers to get wadded up about. :)

Marly said...

Congratulations on making an adorable donation quilt entirely by machine. I hope it meets the hospital's requirements; it would be a shame if you had done all that work for nothing.
Thank you for your process description of machine quilting. That's encouraging me to try machine binding again shortly when I bind the quilt that I'm currently quilting.
I've no experience with mono-filament thread, not because I've heard of bad/dangerous results, but because I try to avoid synthetic materials wherever possible.

Alycia~Quiltygirl said...

It looks great!! I love to machine bind - it makes things go so much faster! Glad you found a way you like to do it now!

Preeti said...

Binding means you finished something. You brought it home. You completed it, in spite of all the distractions and enticements. How could ANYONE associate that with SHAME???
I always bind with machine. I do not have the patience for hand sewing. Like Karen said - you should think of yourself as "pretty hot stuff". Have a great weekend. Big hugs to you!!!

Plumdelice said...

An interesting blog, thank you. I've never been successful with machine binding, but I spent 7 hours hand stitching binding this week. That's time I could use to create or finish other projects. I love your little quilt.
I recently had a quilt rejected by a local 'organiser' for a charity taking quilts for bereaved children, sick children or children in need. It was part of a project run by my local quilt shop. She was quite rude, so that's the last time I'll make for that particular charity. All she had to do was ask if my quilt conformed to their requirements, but she never even asked! Nothing like a jobs worth.

Vivian said...

Wow Rebecca, so glad the binding tips were helpful (thanks for the shoutout!) and your binding and explanation look great! Yes, using an open toe foot (even better if your machine has an open toe walking foot) is a big help in this application as you need to be able to see exactly where the needle "bites" as it enters the binding.

So sorry you had to "take it on the chin" with regards to comments about using the monofilament thread for a charity quilt: As you note, a quilter should follow the guidelines of the charity or quilt collection group regarding what materials they will accept for donated items. However, while I understand the concerns, I would also agree that they come from a time when monofilament thread was much thicker than it is now and did not break very easily. In its early days, it was made more like fishing line. One of the reasons you have to wind the newer monofilaments slow onto a bobbin is that winding it fast can cause it to stretch and break during that process.

I have used monofilament to bind my quilts for years and I have lap and bed quilts that have been washed numerous times and none of the bindings nor any of the thread have come loose over time. I will also say that this method can be done with cotton thread (so still saving time) it will just be more visible in that instance which can be minimized by using a thread color very close to that of the binding and keeping the stitch "bite" as close to the fold as possible.

piecefulwendy said...

Great information in this post. I have done machine binding, but really don't like it much. However, there are times I would prefer that option, so I'm going to try some of your tips. I sew on a Janome and I'm still fidding with finding the right needle placement for binding. Hadn't thought to try monofilament, and didn't realize there was so much discussion about it. Thanks for sharing this!

Kathleen said...

Thank you for sharing this post on my #TTot22. It is a great one and I will definitely try it.